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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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for Monday, January 5, 2009

House of M: Avengers

House of M: Avengers [Marvel; $13.99] collects the five-issue series by Christos Gage with artist Mike Perkins. It's sort of a "delayed reaction" spinoff to the "House of M" event of a few years back, an event which saw a deranged Scarlet Witch use her reality-altering powers to re-create the Marvel Universe into a world where mutants ruled over normal humans. But you don't even need to know that much going into this story; a concise summary at the start of the book brings you right up to speed.

As in the real Marvel Universe, a wrongly convicted Luke Cage gains super-powers while in prison and escapes to re-create himself. However, in this reality, he's the head of a criminal organization who quickly slides into the role of freedom fighter, battling for the rights of humans in a world now ruled by Magneto and a growing mutant population.

Gage writes the best Cage this side of Brian Michael Bendis, and I say that as a guy who wrote a bunch of Cage stories back in the day. He does no less a stellar job portraying a host of other characters, notable among them Hawkeye, Tigra, Misty Knight, Shang-Chi, the Punisher, and Thunderbird. This book is filled with surprises: heroic acts, shocking betrayals, heartrending tragedies, and soul-lifting triumphs. It's a grim thriller, but the light at the end of its tunnel is well worth the ride.

Perkins does an outstanding job on the visual end of things. His storytelling is rock solid and all of the characters look like themselves. The coloring a bit too dark in places, but, given the nature of this tale, I could live with it.

House of M: Avengers offers a complete story for less than the price of the original five issues. That savings combines with the quality of the work to earn this trade paperback the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Nixon's Pals

Nixon's Pals [Image; $12.99] had me from its back-cover blurb:

"What's worse than being a super-villain in Los Angeles County? Being their parole officer, of course!"

Writer Joe Casey and artist Chris Burnham team for this black-and-white graphic novel about a decent guy - Parole Officer Nixon Cooper - working in a world of grays. His parolees are usually one bad day away from resuming their criminal careers. His marriage is crumbling. His fellow officers are mostly jerks; none of them caring one way or another what happens to any of the cons on their lists. And, just to make things ginger-peachy, one of the parolees on Nixon's list is carrying a grudge of homicidal proportions against the poor guy. Some days, the bear gets you.

Cooper takes his fair share of beatdowns in the course of this graphic novel, but he keeps trying to do his job as honestly as his world will allow. He's an off-white knight doing battle on a field bereft of honor. He's one of the best protagonists to hit comics in years and I hope Casey and Burnham have a second story to tell about him. And a third. And a fourth...

Burnham's art and storytelling are a bit rough in places, but, overall, he does a commendable job on the visuals. He's definitely an artist to watch.

Nixon's Pals earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

The Misadventures of a Roving Cartoonist

I've always wanted to learn more about Tom Gill, who drew the Lone Ranger comic for nearly four decades, entertained American soldiers with a squad of globetrotting cartoonists, and was, by all accounts, a gifted and supportive teacher and mentor. That's why I started reading The Misadventures of a Roving Cartoonist: The Lone Ranger's Secret Sidekick [Five Star Legends; $29.95] the day a review copy arrived at Casa Isabella.

Written by Gill himself with Tim Lasiuta, the first hundred or so pages of this book are Gill's memoirs of his career and the many trips he took on behalf of the USO in conjunction with the National Cartoonists Society. Gill, who passed away at the age of 92 shortly after sending his manuscript to Lasiuta, was a natural storyteller in both his comics air and his retelling of his overseas journeys. Though the memoirs could have used a surer editorial hand to clear up some information gaps and an occasional clumsy transition, they left me wishing I could have heard them from Gill in person. That he was a delightful and funny speaker is obvious.

That surer editorial hand could and should have made this book more cohesive. There's a wealth of material here, including mini-bios of Gill's fellow wandering cartoonists; tributes from those who knew him, worked with him, and learned from him; and an extensive checklist of his comics. But, substantial as all this material is, it never comes together. It screams for someone to have taken at least one more pass through it. More examples of Gill's newspaper, comic strip, and comic book art would have also been most welcome. The book just doesn't live up to its subject.

Despite these flaws, I do recommend The Misadventures of a Roving Cartoonist: The Lone Ranger's Secret Sidekick. It gets a perfectly respectable three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

I'm Tony Isabella and I'm going back to the classics...

Thank you for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 01/02/2009 | 01/05/2009 | 01/06/2009 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

Please send material you would like me to review to:

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